Fishing paid the ultimate price on the way in. It looks like a poor settlement to pay for a deal on the way out.
Sadly, from what’s emerging, the trade deal treaty is far from a clean break to international normality/law where Britain would both:
a) Fully take back control of our waters, and
b) move to rightful quota shares based on the international principle of Zonal Attachment – whereby nations have quota shares based on the predominance of species in their waters.
It looks like what has been agreed is a protracted process which will end close to the status quo, with Commission President Ursula von der Leyen crowing that the EU has secured “strong tools to incentivise” the UK to carry on offering EU boats access to UK waters post 2026.
This sounds grim. The government has acceded to a ‘Fishing Backstop’ that the EU sought to impose whereby the EU can retaliate with tariffs on goods should the UK seek to move to a position akin to the other Nordic nations after the 5.5 year period.
Essentially this would see us stuck like a broken record, with continued equal access for the EU to our waters, and on quota shares where the UK wins back just a bit more fish to save some political face.
If such a Fishing Backstop has been created the deal is beyond unacceptable and cannot be said to take back control – we would have nominal independence but no ability to use it because of a bigger issue.
The emerging details on what’s been agreed in relation to fishing would seem to be a cop-out to secure an overall pretty dismal deal, and that fishing communities who paid the ultimate price on the way in will get a poor settlement to pay for a deal on the way out.
This is made worse by the fact that fishing should not have been embroiled in wider trade talks in the first place – one of the main reasons we de-cried the Withdrawal Agreement. If fishing wasn’t going to be bartered it shouldn’t have been on the table and now, because it was there, this government has caved to something that no other serious nation does – trade resources for market access.
This is particularly galling, given that the reason for fishing having been a decades old travesty, that the EU needs/wants seafood from British waters, whether caught by their boats or our own. The immediate chance to do so with our own fleet, for the benefit of our coastal communities, seems to have been squandered.
The PMs announcement made great fanfare of the fishing industry getting a £100 million modernisation fund. We are sure the Tory commentariat and MPs will hope this somehow makes the various fishing associations see this climb down of a deal more positively. However, a bribe of £100m is not of greater advantage than repatriating 100% of our resources instantly (not 25% over 5years), along with ending equal access immediately. Together this would be worth around £1bn in catch values, amounting to some £4bn when processed value is accounted for. Instead, we’re only going to see under a quarter of that regained and no diminution of the EU fleet having unlimited access to plunder our rich fishing grounds right up to 6 miles from shore.
Most tragically we weren’t asking for much. Merely to become no different to our Nordic neighbours, where we should have:
- An end to equal access to one another’s waters. Where Britain’s rich waters are exploited with little gained in return
- Fair shares of Quotas based on Zonal Attachment – where the split of quotas would be 60/40 to the UK (given the majority of catches are in our waters), not 25/75 in favour of the EU.
- Access and/or quota swaps only granted on an annual basis and only when in return for reciprocal swaps of value of fishing opportunities.
- No bind to follow CFP rules – with complete freedom to move to fit for purpose, discard free management suited to our rich mixed fisheries.
- Full freedom from EU freedom of establishment – to allow Britain to curb EU owned but UK registered ‘Flagships’ who now hold half of the lowly share of quota the UK does get.
- No EU vessel that is granted limited access to be allowed inside the 12 nautical mile limit.
The points above were conveyed loud and clear to the government by all industry bodies. The government even publicly adopted them as its position (on which we congratulated them). If the deal fails to deliver any of the points above it is a piss poor effort, especially given that under Article 50 (which terminated our membership on the 31st of January) and the Withdrawal Agreement (which will terminate our obeying all EU law on 31st of December) the CFP ceases to apply – we were obliged to give the EU zero access and would have automatically been able to repatriate 100% of our resources. 5.5 years of unlimited access and a mere 1/4 repatriation of our resources is simply not good enough, no matter how hard anyone tries to polish the proverbial.
Given that Britain’s waters represent around half of the EUs catches in the NE Atlantic, their losing a 1/4 of what they catch in our waters is only a 12.5% cut in their NE Atlantic catches whilst retaining the right to fish up to within 6 miles of our beaches. It seems pretty cushy for them and that every red line listed above that the government adopted has diluted to pink.
In the coming days we expect to see continued propagation of facetious arguments deployed to massage this cave-in to the EU’s egregious demands as some sort of compromise. One of the chief proponents of dis-information recently was Mrs May’s EU sherpa Raoul Ruparel, commenting in Politico that the UK needs to balance catching vs EU market access to sell those catches. As clearly shown by Norway, Iceland and Faroe one doesn’t need to trade fisheries access for markets. EU citizens desire seafood which can only be found in our waters. There’s also the lie that’s been spun over years, as a credible excuse, that we haven’t the fleet to catch repatriated resources.
Given Britain’s big pelagic boats work less than 6 months of the year and can catch hundreds of tons per hour haul, they could easily manage to catch a doubling of pelagic quotas – and that’s before adopting distribution of repatriated pelagic quota to all boats around coastal communities to allow smaller vessels pursue a seasonal pelagic fishery as was traditional and as Ireland and Norway manage to do.
Regarding whitefish, given the estimates that whitefish vessels have to discard half their catches for want of, or inaccurately set, quota, a repatriation of whitefish could conceivably be absorbed just by covering for discards. Additionally, the prawn/nephrops market is oversupplied – as ever more boats were pushed to this fishery from lack of fish quota. Distributing whitefish/pelagic quota to them would see them catch a chunk of any extra, and have the bonus of taking the supply glut out of the prawn market.
Lastly, the inaccurate assertion that Britain couldn’t catch all its repatriated resources totally misses that under UNCLOS a nation may cut its quotas to safeguard stocks and must only give any excess to its neighbours. In other words, if we can’t catch everything that is deemed to be a sustainable harvest in our waters then change the paper-work and leave it in the sea for another year – there is no need to let the EU hoover it up!
After the immediate euphoria, central office spin and main-stream media hyperbole about celebrating a deal being delivered, MPs best soberly reflect on the points above. In the age of social media the truth about this deal will come out – and we guarantee the public will not be as impressed as the political establishment are with themselves.
The demand of the people for complete independence (which our industry so embodied) will not abate and a whirlwind will come if they judge that regaining this has been compromised for a deal that revolves around trade which as an issue was always a poor cousin vs the people’s desire to sever ties with an increasingly federalist EU that they perceived to be robbing the UK of its resources, industries and freedom.